Double Loop Learning: Chris Argyris

I am always fascinated by the failure of businesses, of armies and recently of political parties to learn from their mistakes. Of course they have to admit them first and this requires that they among other things scrutinize their assumptions. So I have always loved the concept of Double Loop Learning that I learned from Chris Argyris:

“Double-loop learning is contrasted with “single-loop learning”: the repeated attempt at the same problem, with no variation of method and without ever questioning the goal. Chris Argyris described the distinction between single-loop and double-loop learning using the following analogy:

[A] thermostat that automatically turns on the heat whenever the temperature in a room drops below 68°F is a good example of single-loop learning. A thermostat that could ask, “why am I set to 68°F?” and then explore whether or not some other temperature might more economically achieve the goal of heating the room would be engaged in double-loop learning

— Chris Argyris Teaching Smart People How To Learn

Double-loop learning is used when it is necessary to change the mental model on which a decision depends. Unlike single loops, this model includes a shift in understanding, from simple and static to broader and more dynamic, such as taking into account the changes in the surroundings and the need for expression changes in mental models. It is required if the problem or mismatch that starts the organizational learning process cannot be addressed by small adjustments because it involves the organization’s governing variables.[4] Organizational learning in such cases occurs when the diagnosis and intervention produce changes in the underlying policies, assumptions, and goals. According to Argyris, however, many organizations resist double-loop learning due to a number of variables such as resistance to change, fear of failure, and overemphasis on control.


Image may contain: possible text that says 'Single Loop Learning most common learning style: problem solving Assumptions tions governing variables Why we do what we do Techniques action strategy What we do & How we do it Results consequences What we obtain Double Loop Learning more than problem solving: reevaluate and reframe goals, values values, etc.'

About creativeconflictwisdom

I spent 32 years in a Fortune Five company working on conflict: organizational, labor relations and senior management. I have consulted in a dozen different business sectors and the US Military. I work with a local environmental non profit. I have written a book on the neuroscience of conflict, and its implications for conflict handling called Creative Conflict Wisdom (forthcoming).
This entry was posted in Conflict Book Reviews, Conflict Processes, Philosophy of Conflict, The Conflict Model, Ways to handle conflict and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Double Loop Learning: Chris Argyris

  1. kakatoa says:

    I tried to Like this post as it goes well with the thoughts of Colonel Boyd’s Organic OODA Loop model. Unfortunately my ability to “Like” posts has been restricted……….

    • Thanks I appreciate your like. And yes it does go well with Observe Orient Decide Act,of Colonel Boyd, which can form a sub-set of Double Loop Learning. Making that connection also shows that Double Learning can be slow and deep or fast and agile. Colonel Boyd’s thinking has had as big an influence on me as Chris Argyris. Thanks for making the connection explicit.

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